President Joe Biden is moving ahead with plans to evacuate all U.S. citizens and troops from Afghanistan by Aug. 31, providing the Taliban does not interfere with the evacuation. But Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, a combat veteran, says she does not see how it’s possible to meet that deadline.
The notion that Americans and our Afghan partners can be evacuated by the end of the month “is a fantasyland that has been developed by President Biden, by the administration,” Ernst says. “I don’t see how we have everyone out by Aug. 31 and honor those commitments we’ve made to our own citizens and our Afghan partners.”
Ernst served in the military for more than 23 years. In 2003, she was a company commander in Kuwait and Iraq, and led 150 Iowa Army National Guardsmen during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Ernst was the first female combat veteran to be elected to the Senate.
The current situation in Afghanistan is an “international embarrassment” that puts both “Americans and our allies in harm’s way,” the Iowa senator says.
Ernst joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to explain what the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan could mean for America, and what the Biden administration needs to do to prevent further disaster.
We also cover these stories:
- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., calls on the Biden administration to rethink its original Aug. 31 deadline for U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
- Vice President Kamala Harris rebukes China for its “coercion” and “intimidation” in the South China Sea.
- The University of Notre Dame leprechaun mascot comes under fire for supposedly being “offensive.”
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Virginia Allen: Afghanistan fell to the Taliban just over a week ago. American troops are still working to get U.S. citizens out of the country. And President Joe Biden is standing behind the decision he made to pull troops out of Afghanistan. Here with me to break down where things currently stand is combat veteran and Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst. Senator, thank you so much for being here.
Sen. Joni Ernst: No, great to be with you. Thank you.
Allen: Senator, you are a member of the Armed Services Committee and the first female combat veteran to ever be elected to the Senate. You served in the military for 23 years and led 150 Iowa Army National Guardsmen during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. Speaking as a veteran, what are you thinking and feeling right now about the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan?
Ernst: Well, thank you, Virginia. It is so disheartening to see what is going on in Afghanistan right now. And what we are witnessing is truly an international embarrassment that will put more Americans and our allies in harm’s way. And what this is also doing at the same time is emboldening our adversaries that we have been fighting over the last two decades in the global war on terror.
Allen: And do we know right now how many Americans are still in Afghanistan in need to be evacuated?
Ernst: We don’t. And this is a great concern of ours, is that the Taliban has made demands that we will be out of the country by Aug. 31. And President Biden, who is exhibiting weak, weak leadership on this issue, is basically saying, “OK. Well, we’ll have all of our troops out by Aug. 31,” without knowing how many more Americans are stuck in Afghanistan. So this is, again, just a debacle and embarrassment. And certainly, we should be concerned about these citizens and make sure that we are leaving no one behind.
Allen: I mean, looking at the scenes of the airport and hearing the reports of people who are trapped in various places in the country trying to get to the airport, is it possible? Is there a world where that is possible to have everyone out by Aug. 31?
Ernst: Well, in the Joe Biden fantasy world, yes, it is easy. We’ve heard them say over and over again, “Oh, Americans have safe passage to the airport. The Taliban is assisting them.” Baloney.
We know that this is very difficult for Americans who are in those outlying provinces to travel and make it through all of these Taliban checkpoints to the airport in Kabul. We know it’s been difficult, not just for our American citizens, but also for those Afghan partners and allies.
So, this is a fantasyland that has been developed by President Biden, by the administration. I don’t see how we have everyone out by Aug. 31 and honor those commitments we’ve made to our own citizens and our Afghan partners.
Allen: Yeah. You mentioned our partners. Does the Biden administration have a plan to safely and efficiently evacuate our Afghan partners who have stood with us, some of them for 20 years, and like you say, made promises to?
Ernst: Yes. Well, obviously, they don’t. And this is where both Democrats and Republicans have been pushing the administration.
Since earlier this spring, I was at a meeting at the White House where Jeanne Shaheen, senator from New Hampshire, Democrat, and I were leading a group, pushing the administration to get the Special Immigrant Visa program in place, update it, and make sure we were moving those partners out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible.
That really did not start until July. They were months and months behind on moving out these people that assisted our men and women in uniform over the past two decades.
So no, they don’t have a good process in place. It’s been very hasty, very haphazard, and this is something we were pushing on them months and months ago.
Allen: I think so many Americans, they’re still asking the question, how did we get here? How did this happen? How did we wind up in this terrible situation? And the Taliban, how were they able to take over so quickly? Did American military leaders underestimate the Taliban? Or did President Biden simply ignore all of his military advisers?
Ernst: Well, this is what we have to get to the bottom of, and I’m sure there will be many inquiries following this episode. The thing that we need to focus on right now is evacuating as many people as possible. First, American citizens and those Special Immigrant Visa holders. We need to get them out.
But yes, this is a question we need to know and understand. Did President Biden simply ignore the warnings that were coming from the intelligence community? Did he heed the warnings that were coming from the Department of Defense? Did they underestimate the Taliban and the Taliban’s strength?
I think these are all things that we need to know and understand, but that will be secondary right now. We’ll have to figure that out. The first priority really needs to be focusing on Americans and making sure that they can get to safety.
But in my estimation, having served in the military for over 23 years, we should always have those plans in place. No. 1, evacuating Americans. No. 2, destroying our military equipment so that it can’t fall into the hands of the Taliban. No. 3 is getting our troops out. And No. 4, of course, is destroying those air bases or other bases that existed so they can’t be used by the Taliban and the other violent extremist organizations.
I think this is all very basic, and this administration, they knew better, or they should have known better, but here we are today with those horrible images of a humanitarian crisis on the rise in Afghanistan.
Allen: As a veteran and as someone who understands both how our military works and who understands our enemy, do you think that the Taliban is going to allow Americans and our Afghan partners to leave the country? What are the chances that we might start seeing hostage situations?
Ernst: I am very hopeful that the Taliban will do as they are saying, but folks, it’s the Taliban. We should never, ever trust the Taliban and what they have said. Certainly, when this withdrawal was being negotiated, we have seen that they have not honored their commitments to that withdrawal plan. So, I would not trust them.
I still think if we have Americans that are out in Afghanistan, in those more remote locations, we should be sending our military to gather up those Americans to bring them into the airport safely so we can get them out of the country because, no, I don’t trust the Taliban.
Allen: And we’re seeing that the Taliban, they’re making claims that they’ve changed. Leaders say that they will ensure women’s rights are protected under Islamic law. Do you think we’re going to see anything different from the Taliban than we’ve seen in years past?
Ernst: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. I know their leaders are hungering for world recognition, but all of their fighters on the ground, have they changed? No. We are still hearing stories about them going from door to door, knocking on homes, trying to find those that were allied with the American forces, threatening to kill them, their family members.
We saw a woman that was beaten to death in the streets the other day by the Taliban. If that’s allowing women additional freedom, I hate to see it across Afghanistan.
We have a lot of women that we are very, very concerned about in the country, those that are now educated, those that have risen into leadership positions and positions of authority. And we know that they will be a target of the Taliban. There is no way the Taliban will allow strong women leaders to exist within Afghanistan. It truly is a threat to their overall organization and what they consider their religious code.
Allen: Yeah, it really is heartbreaking to see some of those women put out messages and just the dire situation that they’re in.
Ernst: It is dire.
Allen: Now, you mentioned just a moment ago the U.S. military equipment and hardware that was left in the country. I’ve been deeply concerned to learn that the Taliban is now in possession of literally billions of dollars of U.S. military hardware. What do we know about the American weaponry that the Taliban now has possession of or access to?
Ernst: Yes. And it’s hard to account for all of it because, again, with such a haphazard withdrawal, I don’t know that we have inventories of exactly what was left behind at locations or what was turned over to the Afghan national military system.
So we don’t know what is coming from Afghan security forces that maybe turned over their weapons to the Taliban as they surrendered or dissipated. We don’t know what was left behind at maybe Bagram Air Base.
What we understood is that all of this military equipment was being retrograded back to the United States or into other nations. So we see an awful lot of equipment that has been left behind, which is now in the Taliban’s hands.
And we know now, especially if it’s sensitive equipment, it can be obtained by other violent extremist organizations. It can be obtained by our near-peer competitors like China and Russia. And then they can further reverse-engineer and understand our equipment and how they can fight against this type of equipment. So it is a huge concern and a horrible, horrible misstep by this administration.
Allen: And I know there are so many concerns about the ways that China and Russia are going to take advantage of this situation. Even on Tuesday morning, we saw that China’s envoy to the United Nations, he said, “The U.S., U.K., Australia, and other countries must be held accountable for the violation of human rights committed by their military in Afghanistan.” I mean, with statements like this being made, what do you think this tells us about what we can expect to see from China on this issue moving forward?
Ernst: Well, first, it’s laughable that China is talking about human rights violations. They are a huge, huge violator. … I can say that our military in Afghanistan is honorable, and we are extremely careful as a nation when we’re engaging in military action or any mission set, that we are safeguarding that human capital, the populations that exist in these countries, and only going after terrorists that are confirmed or targets that are confirmed. We are very surgical in our operations so that we’re protecting the population in Afghanistan.
So talking about human rights violations while they’re supporting an organization that literally, as we saw the other day, beat a woman to death in the streets—and we know that this is happening all over the country. I think we’re going to see an explosion now of human rights violations from the Taliban and other organizations. China, they need to stay out of it. They are a contributor to violations as well.
Allen: What might the long-term implications be regarding terrorism in the U.S.? I mean, are we looking at possibly facing another 9/11-type attack because of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan?
Ernst: There should be a huge concern to all Americans right now. We even heard Adm. [John] Kirby in one of the press briefings say, “We don’t know what’s going on in Afghanistan because we don’t have eyes and ears in Afghanistan anymore.”
That’s correct, we don’t, because we’re pulling all of our personnel out, which means that we are doing those “over the horizon” operations that the president keeps touting. Well, over the horizon is not as good as having eyes and ears on the ground.
We know that al-Qaeda still exists in Afghanistan. The president last week had stated al-Qaeda’s no longer in Afghanistan. That’s baloney. We know that’s not true. The Department of Defense had to correct the president 20 minutes after that statement. Al-Qaeda is still there. And now that they have free reign, they can reconstitute with the Taliban’s assistance.
We also know that ISIS is in Afghanistan. There are many, many other violent extremist organizations. Since we don’t have a presence there, it allows them to stage and operate bases again, just as we saw prior to the 9/11 attacks in 2001. So I am very, very concerned, and we need to remain vigilant because we do have an increasing threat coming out of Afghanistan.
I’ve introduced legislation, it’s called the Preventing Terrorism From Hitting America’s Streets Act, and it does require our nation’s military, our intelligence departments, and our [Department of] Homeland Security branches to take a look and assess this increased risk that will be coming from Afghanistan.
As we look at our southern border, we know that we have a porous border allowed by this weak administration, which could allow easy access for these various terrorist groups to enter into the United States.
Allen: And tell us a little bit more, Senator, about that piece of legislation. Do you know when it’s going to be introduced on the floor?
Ernst: We have introduced it. I have introduced the legislation already, but it will need to be taken up on the floor of the Senate.
Now, if you look at the makeup of the Senate, it is controlled by the Democrats. Floor activities are controlled by [Senate Majority Leader] Chuck Schumer, so the likelihood that the legislation would actually get onto the floor and get passed is slammed because of Chuck Schumer and the Democrats.
So, as we see increasing numbers crossing our southern border, as we see this debacle in Afghanistan, I think, to average American out there, they would say this would be a very good thing for us to do.
But for the Democrats to take it up, one, they would have to acknowledge that we have a crisis at our southern border and are allowing access by individuals that aren’t vetted and that are entering in massive numbers. And they would also have to admit that we do have an increasing threat in Afghanistan because of President Biden’s outrageous haphazard withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The Democrats don’t want to admit this, so the likelihood of this legislation passing is slim. I hope that they would reconsider. But we do have an increasing threat coming out of Afghanistan.
Allen: Senator, if you could sit down with President Biden today and advise him on what to do next, what would you tell him?
Ernst: I would tell him that we need to be very strong as a nation. We should not be cowering and bowing to the demands of the Taliban. We have Americans that are at risk in Afghanistan. And we can’t go back and correct what President Biden has done, but my advice to President Biden is, you need to flex your military might. You need to find other avenues for us to get American citizens out of Afghanistan. You need to tell the Taliban that if the Americans aren’t out by Aug. 31, we’re staying for as long as it takes to get every last one out.
Allen: Senator, thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate your insight.
Ernst: Oh, it is a pleasure to be with you. God bless you and God bless all of our Americans that are struggling to find a way out of Afghanistan.
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